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Can AJ McCarron beat out Andy Dalton in Cincinnati?

We may never know for sure why three-time national champion and 2013 Heisman Trophy runner-up AJ McCarron dropped all the way to the fifth round of the 2014 NFL Draft, especially in this day and age in which quarterbacks are more valuable than ever.

Maybe it was his personality. Maybe he really did rub teams the wrong way.

But if that’s the case, maybe it bodes well for McCarron’s chances of going from 164th overall pick to NFL starting quarterback, because you’d rather have character concerns than football concerns.

So is the Alabama product a threat to current Cincinnati Bengals starter Andy Dalton? In the short term, no. Not based on the fact the team is reportedly looking to extend Dalton’s contract. But in the NFL, there’s no such thing as long-term job security.

Dalton is only the third quarterback in NFL history to throw 80 or more touchdown passes in his first three seasons, joining Dan Marino and Peyton Manning. Sure, he has struggled in the playoffs, but he’s only 26. The Bengals invested a second-round pick in the guy just three years ago.

At the very same point in his career, Manning had yet to win a playoff game. In fact, it took Manning six years before he finally won in January. It took Matt Ryan five. It appears the Bengals will treat McCarron simply as a backup for now, but it is true that if Dalton takes a step backward in 2014, this could become an in-house battle next spring and summer.

What does Dalton need to do to hang on? He’ll have to get that passer rating above 90 for the first time in his career, leading the Bengals back to the playoffs while cutting down on that interception total (20 in 2013). If that can happen and he can at least put together a decent playoff performance, he’ll be good in 2015. And if he can lead this franchise to a rare postseason victory or two, it might buy him a couple more seasons.

But if Dalton’s 2014 season looks similar to or worse than his 2013 campaign, it’ll be on, regardless of what Marvin Lewis says.

Part of the reason for that is that if Dalton loses ground this year, Lewis might be unemployed by January anyway.

Brad Gagnon

About Brad Gagnon

Brad Gagnon has been passionate about both sports and mass media since he was in diapers -- a passion that won't die until he's in them again. Based in Toronto, he's worked as a national NFL blog editor at theScore.com (covering Super Bowls XLIV, XLV and XLVI), a producer and writer at theScore Television Network and a host, reporter and play-by-play voice at Rogers TV. His work has also appeared at Deadspin, FoxSports.com, The Guardian, The Hockey News and elsewhere at Bloguin, but his day gig has him covering all things NFC East for Bleacher Report.

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